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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Switzerland

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Switzerland, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd88923c.html [accessed 22 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 7,660,000
Capital: Bern

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Dismissals: 4

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

Trade unions remained critical of the lack of sanctions dissuasive enough to prevent unfair dismissals, with several trade unionists affected during the year. Employers exploited every loophole in the labour legislation to challenge or repress trade union activities.

Background

The Centre Democratic Union (Union démocratique du centre – UDC) held its ground as the leading political force in the October federal elections. For the first time in 20 years however, the party, which has traditionally campaigned on an anti-Europe and anti-immigration platform, won fewer votes (26%) than in previous elections. With unemployment at barely 2.8% and healthy growth, Switzerland, whose banks manage about 30% of the world's offshore fortunes, remains an enclave of stability and prosperity in Europe.

Trade union rights in law

Basic trade union rights are secured in law, but are not without limitations. The Federal Constitution explicitly recognises the right of workers to form and join unions. Although union representatives enjoy a certain degree of protection against dismissal, the Federal Court has confirmed that employers have considerable leeway due to the notion of redundancies "for economic reasons", and reinstatement is not possible. However, a bill submitted for consultation in 2010 would increase the penalty for unfair dismissal and improve protection of elected workers' representatives against layoffs. The government has not yet decided whether or not to put the bill before Parliament for approval.

The right to strike is limited, as all strikes must be connected to industrial relations to be legal. The government can limit or prohibit strikes if they affect state security, external relations or the provision of vital goods and services, however there are no compensatory dispute resolution mechanisms for the workers affected. Furthermore, if a strike is declared illegal, workers can be summarily dismissed and liable to pay compensation, as well as damages. Penal sanctions may also be applied. Finally, the semi-canton of Nidwald and the canton of Fribourg have introduced laws that ban strikes for the cantons' staff.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Sanctions against unfair dismissal still too weak: The reform bill aimed at improving protection against unfair dismissal was rejected by the employers' organisations. The federal government has not yet decided whether to present it to parliament. Current regulations are not dissuasive enough, enabling employers to continue riding roughshod over trade union rights. On 1 March, the courts made a final ruling in favour of a woman employee at the clock parts company Composants Techniques Horlogers (CTH) who was dismissed in 2008 for taking part in trade union meetings. The ruling upheld the view that the dismissal was anti-union and that she had been the victim of harassment: "Her hierarchical superior reproached his colleague for not coming to work the previous Saturday, shouting at her, swearing and banging his fist on the table. He immediately transferred her to a smaller, windowless room, where she was told to check and clean the glass on watches that had already been boxed (...). This work involved using toxic products (isopropyl alcohol, acetone and F45) which, given the absence of any ventilation, caused the worker headaches and nausea. Until that time, nobody had been assigned to that task full time." The victim was awarded only six months salary in compensation, completely at odds with the seriousness of the events. The case demonstrates the need to provide for the reinstatement of workers who are unfairly dismissed, as the ILO has requested.

Violations

Official warning for trade unionist from Lausanne transport: In April, Aissam Echchorfi, a union representative employed by the Lausanne region public transport authority received an official warning and a fine for the "harassment" of some of his colleagues, because he sent them text messages and e-mails calling on them to mobilise for better working conditions. The Transport Workers' Union (Syndicat du personnel du transport – SEV) has lodged a complaint. The case is due to come to court in 2012.

No trade unionists allowed in car park: On 10 October, further to a complaint lodged by Michelin starred chef Philippe Chevrier of the Domaine de Châteauvieux restaurant in Geneva, several members of the UNIA private sector trade union confederation were sentenced on appeal for trespass for distributing leaflets in the restaurant car park to inform employees of the new collective agreement.

Criminalisation of the right to strike: In November the food company Barbey lodged a complaint against the UNIA trade union confederation, demanding 3.3 million Swiss francs in damages for the loss of a client and damage to its image following a strike by staff in May 2010. UNIA complained that this was criminalising the right to strike. The strike was legal and helped staff gain better working conditions. In addition, Barbey won a libel case against a trade union activist even though the issues that he publicly criticised (night work without authorisation, the non-respect of daily rest periods, etc.) had been confirmed by the labour inspector.

Several cases of anti-union dismissal: Two union representatives at the precision instruments company TESA were dismissed on 8 November, just after negotiations in which the unions successfully opposed an increase in working time without compensation. TESA dismissed them using the pretext of a petition circulating among staff denouncing management's disparaging attitude towards its staff.

A woman trade union representative was also dismissed in November by the media company Edipresse for "economic reasons", in breach of the collective agreement, which stipulates that the dismissal of staff representatives must first be discussed between the social partners.

In May, a court ruled that the dismissal of Daniel Sutter, Chairman of the Staff Committee at the Tages-Anzeiger daily, in 2009 (see 2011 Survey) was not unfair, even though it occurred just before important social dialogue negotiations. The case is now before the Federal Tribunal. The Swiss national centre Union syndicale suisse (USS) was also critical of an industrial enterprise in the Tessin canton which informed the chairman of its staff committee of its intention to dismiss him at a meeting called for the annual salary negotiations.

Trade unions banned from public buildings in Tessin: On 29 November, the government of the Tessin canton decided to ban trade unions from its official buildings. One year earlier, the head of the Christian Democrats Party (PDC) in the Tessin parliament complained about trade union leaflets being distributed among the canton's administrative staff during the referendum on performance related pay. The public service union SSP believes the government decided on the ban because it wanted to punish the unions for the failure of the vote in favour performance related pay. A conciliation process was launched between the SSP and the Tessin government.

False accusations against strikers in the health sector: Several strikes took place at the Geneva university hospitals involving hospital porters, nursing assistants, laboratory assistants and cleaners to denounce budget cuts. Management illegally imposed a minimum services on these occupations. It also lodged a complaint against the strikers for putting human lives in danger, which the workers deny.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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